Read an Extract from Dr Franklin's Island:


I dreamed that I was counting tree frogs. They were brightly coloured, like jewels, but they had too many legs. I was piling them one on top of another. The legs kept sticking out in all directions and I kept trying to tuck them neatly into the heap. It was one of those anxiety-dreams you get when you aren't properly asleep. While I stacked up these frogs that looked like beetles, I still knew I was on the plane. I could hear some people talking loudly. I wished they'd keep quiet, because they were making me lose count... The voices kept on getting louder. Finally I opened my eyes.
The window beside me was black. The cabin was dark, except for the fasten seat belts signs, and the little glowing lights that lead to the emergency exits. My eyes felt sticky, I'd gone to sleep with my contact lenses in. I remember peering at my watch, and thinking, that's funny, I thought we were supposed to be in Quito by now.
The noisy conversation that I'd heard in my dream wasn't happening in the passenger cabin. The sound of loud voices, shouting voices, using a language I couldn't understand, was coming from the cockpit. I looked around at Miranda. She was awake too. We both had our seatbelts fastened: I hadn't unfastened mine since take off. We didn't speak. She leaned down, unlaced her hiking boots, and took them off. Then she reached under her seat and pulled out her bag. I saw her grope in the outside pockets, and transfer some things to the pockets of her combats. I knew, right then, exactly what she was doing, and why... I slipped my reefs back onto my bare feet, and bent to fasten the velcro straps. I felt a weird tingling in my stomach and my throat. I badly wanted to go to the toilet, but that didn't seem like an option at the moment. I'd already noticed, with some unsuspected instinct deep inside, that Miranda and I (our seats were in the back, near the tail section) were near an exit; and seen which way we should go to reach it.
'What's happening?' I whispered.
Miranda said, 'I don't know. Sssh-'
They say in an emergency you should drop everything and save your life if you can. But if you can get hold of anything useful, before things go completely bananas, you really should. Take it from me. I couldn't get to my bag. I started trying to reach for my jacket, so at least I'd have my contact lens case, which was in one of the pockets. But it had slipped too far under the seat-
I don't really know what happened next. I'm almost sure I heard a loud bang, like a gun being fired. I know the plane started lurching all over the place, like a car driving too fast on a very bumpy road. Then one of the cabin crew came out of the cockpit as if she'd been pushed out, looking very scared, and there was a strange man behind her, not in uniform, his face covered... I think his face was covered… by a mask. But there was so much confusion, suddenly. A couple of boys in front of me and Miranda had got up from their seats. I don't know what they were trying to do. A girl started screaming at them to sit down, and the grown ups had to intervene to break up a fight. It was dark, and I was scared. I concentrated on keeping quiet, not getting involved, hoping I was wrong about what seemed to be happening, hoping whatever was going on would be over soon. Then the plane nose-dived. My ears popped so hard it felt as if they were bursting. There was a huge, big roller-coaster scream that went all through the cabin: and I know that would have been the end, finito... but the plane levelled out again with an ear-ringing shock that was like hitting an invisible brick wall. The undercarriage (no, not the undercarriage, I mean, the belly of the plane, I don't know what it's called), seemed to hit something hard as rock, bounced, and hit again.
'We're ditching in the sea,' said Miranda, softly. 'Let's stick together, huh? Can you swim?' Even now she sounded cool and grown-up, and in control.
There was pandemonium in the cabin, but her quiet voice cut through it. If she'd shrieked like everyone else, I'd never have heard her. I said, 'Yeah, I can swim,' and we got hold of each other's hands.
Things became calmer, now the situation was desperate. The shouting and screaming died off. We were told to unfasten our seatbelts and get out into the aisle. I shuffled for the exit along with everyone else, holding Miranda's hand so tight, you'd have had to cut my arm off to get me loose. Next thing I remember, I was in the water. Miranda was beside me. We were treading water, buoyed up by our lifejackets, in the dark, in a crowd of other bobbing heads and bright blobs of lifejackets. We were trying to get to one of the big yellow liferafts, but we were being smacked around by waves that were chopping and smashing wildly at us from every direction. Something bashed me hard in the knee. I heard Miranda yell, 'We can't do it! We have to get away from these rocks!' I was absolutely trusting her with my life, so I swam with her, in the opposite direction from everybody around us. And that was very lucky, because it meant at least we were swimming away from the plane, when the explosion happened.
I can't remember hearing anything. I was simply flung up high in the air, still surrounded by water, and then deep down, down down... and then flying up again, choking and gasping, being thrown about like a rag. Then I was swimming again, with Miranda beside me. My eyes were sore and blinded by salt, my throat was raw, my lungs hurt, and the water seemed cold as ice. I was thinking of the pilot, or whoever it was, who had managed to level out of the nose-dive. I was thinking, I owe that person a life. Whoever managed to do that, doesn't deserve for me to give up now-
Cold black salt water. A blackness overhead lit by brilliant stars. Two heads bobbing near me. Somewhere nearby, a long, steady roaring sound... 'Miranda?' I yelled.
'Yes, it's me.'
'Who's that with you?'
Whoever it was didn't answer, maybe they couldn't spare the breath. There was no sign of the liferafts, or any other bobbing heads. The three of us seemed to be completely alone, and I thought of the great huge ocean stretching out forever.
With sharks in it.
'Listen,' croaked Miranda, bumping into me. 'Listen to the breakers. Look, I can see the shore. We can make it. Come on, swim.'
Ahead of us I could see a cone of darkness blotting out the starry sky. There was a moving, glimmering line, where that darkness merged with the surface of the sea: I knew this was the foam of waves breaking on a shore. We swam. My wet denim jeans made it feel as if my legs were encased in concrete, and I wished I hadn't put my reefs back on. Miranda had had more sense, taking her boots off. I tried to kick the sandals away, but I couldn't get rid of them. I don't know how I kept on swimming, but I did, for an incredibly long time. When we got in among the breaking waves I was picked up and thrown back, time after time, and that's when I really thought I was done for, because I had no strength left to fight. The water didn't seem like water, it seemed like an enormous, cruelly playful living thing, tossing me about in its claws and its teeth. I was shouting at it, inside me somewhere, stop it, stop it, knock it off, you big bully... But finally, finally, there was sand underfoot. Finally, finally, on my hands and knees, I crawled out of the waves' reach. Miranda was there with me, and someone else. We rolled over lay on our backs on the hard wet sand. There was no moon, only the stars, shining blurred and bright: the brightest stars I had ever seen.
'Who are you?' I said, to the person next to me, on the other side from Miranda. I didn't have the strength to sit up and look.
'I'm Arnie.'
'Semi.'
'Miranda.'
All three of us crawled up the sloping beach, until the sand under us was dry. We collapsed again for a while, and then we crawled further, until we came to a big boulder with an overhang: a shelter that seemed, by our present standards, as good as a five star hotel. There we lay, drenched, battered, too exhausted to talk, too exhausted to sleep, waiting for the light.

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